By: Austin Perlmutter, MD, Medical Student, Miller School of Medicine
Depression is the leading cause of disability in young Americans, a significant burden for those affected and those around them. With so many suffering from this condition, the market has created a slew of treatments designed to fix the problem. Like any other medical issue, there are science-based therapies and unsubstantiated attempts to profit from others’ misfortune. Though drugs are the standard evidence based treatment, new data now sheds light on ways to fight depression without medications. Here are five evidence-based ways to counter depression without drugs:
- Exercise: Multiple studies show the beneficial effects of exercise on everything from cardiovascular status to emotional state. The latest review of available evidence shows that exercise may be as good as drugs in treating depression. What’s even better, data shows that there are significant benefits in emotional state with as little as two weeks of exercise. Considering that we give antidepressant medications 6 to 8 weeks before we see full effects, this is huge.
- Sunlight: If you’re familiar with seasonal affective disorder, you may already know how important sunlight is to mood. Research shows that serotonin production by the brain is directly related to the exposure to bright sunlight, so that more sunlight means more serotonin. Understanding that our most commonly prescribed antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) and are thought to work by increasing brain serotonin, this data is all the more interesting.
- Sleep: Though most of us agree that a good night’s sleep helps mood, the data suggests that not getting enough sleep may predict future depression. More research shows that getting 5 or less hours of sleep a night may boost our risk of getting depression to 53%, up from 27% when we get the normal 7 to 8.9 hours a night.
- Coffee: While many harbor a fear of this beverage, research on more than 50,000 women found that caffeinated coffee consumption decreases risk of developing depression. A Finnish study found similar results in men, with coffee consumption decreasing risk of depression in several thousand subjects.
- Diet: The role of diet on emotional state is an evolving and fascinating field. Following a Mediterranean diet may lower chances of depression, with higher adherence leading to better preventative effects. Research shows that high glycemic index diets are associated with depression in the elderly. In addition, consider that fast food consumption is also linked with depression.
Take home points:
- Getting 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 times a week benefits many aspects of your health, but may also be one of our best antidepressant therapies.
- Spending some time in the sun may be a good way to boost serotonin, which is a key factor in treating depression.
- Getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night will make you feel great, and may also make you a happier person.
- A cup or two of coffee will wake you up, and may also keep your spirits up.
- Following a Mediterranean diet, a low glycemic index diet, and a diet low in fast food could be making you a happier (and healthier) person.